The art director of the award-winning women's magazine Riposte reveals how she finds photographers, and what makes a great editorial shoot, in an interview from BJP's May issue
Arriving in London from Tehran, aged 10, and not having English as a first language, Shaz Madani remembers finding “great comfort in the universal language of images and pictures”. That refuge in the visual was probably the genesis of her career, as more than a decade later she graduated from the London College of Communication with a degree in design for advertising. Three years on, she set up her own studio, and soon after, a mutual friend put her in touch with Danielle Pender. Together they founded Riposte, a biannual “smart magazine for women”. Now in its seventh issue, the award- winning title, edited by Pender and art directed by Madani, is lauded for its intelligent voice and smart aesthetic. The Iranian-born designer continues with project work, including commissions from MoMA, Wellcome Trust, Elephant magazine, and two books for photographer Giles Duley. This article comes from BJP‘s May issue.
Why doesn’t Riposte have a front cover image?
Riposte came about as a response to the barrage of image-saturated magazines we were seeing on the shelves, which too often focused on unrealistic or negative visions of female beauty; either highly unattainable, heavily retouched women in expensive clothes or celebrity gossip mags berating women for not being perfect enough.
We wanted to create a platform that celebrated talented women, with a space where they could have open and honest discussions about their failures and successes and the issues that matter to them. With the cover concept, it seemed like the perfect way to wipe the slate clean and shift the focus back to these women, and champion them for who they are and their achievements rather than their faces or bodies.
Do you prefer to use female photographers?
We love working with talented female photographers but would never disregard a male – it’s not about excluding genders. We work with whoever is most suitable for the job. It’s really important both in our visual and editorial commissioning to include male viewpoints and collaborators.
What are your main considerations when commissioning?
It’s a massive contradiction but the first thing I always ask is, “Does this feel like Riposte?”, but at the same time we’re looking for work that challenges our ideas about what we should feature. Honesty has been a constant criteria. I’m interested in photographers who have a nuanced approach; an eye for detail and the ability to break down the wall between the subject and viewer. We try to use natural lighting where possible and avoid over-styling or heavy post production.
How do you collaborate with photographers?
It’s about understanding them and how they work best as much as it is about knowing what you want from the project. It’s a fine balance. Sometimes too much direction or involvement can stifle or confuse people. We usually give as much freedom to photographers as possible so they are able to express their own creativity. If we do the first part of our job right, which is to pair the right person to the right brief, the rest should work organically.
Is it important to be active on social media?
Definitely. I’ve only recently (and reluctantly) taken to platforms such as Instagram for research and for sourcing commissions. It’s a great place to see more casual work or look at personal projects, and to get some extra insight into the sort of photographer someone might be.
How much value do you place on experience?
It’s not always about being really experienced. It’s more about a photographer’s eye and natural ability. There may be situations where, due to time constraints or the nature of the shoot or the subject, you definitely want someone who is well skilled, will know what they are doing and is able to conduct themselves professionally. Other times, when there is more freedom to be playful, a young or less experienced photographer can bring unexpected and raw interpretations to a brief.